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Abortion Plan Gets Close But Loses Again, 11/10/1995

By Editorial Staff
Published November 10, 1995

Doctor Revamps Application And Almost Gets To Open Office

By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff

A Maryland doctor won, then lost the right Thursday – both on technicalities – to perform abortions near downtown Orlando.

The reversal came partly because of the persistence of an abortion opponent, who questioned city officials about the amount of time a woman needs to recover from the procedure.

Here’s what happened:

Dr. James Pendergraft late Wednesday was approved by the city to open an abortion practice after changing the way he described his business.

Instead of calling his enterprise a “clinic,” he referred to it as an “office,” allowing him to meet city zoning requirements and open as soon as possible.

Clinics, by city definition, offer procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to offices, where clients generally leave without complications.

Pendergraft, through attorney Sheila Moylan of Miami, provided the city with five affidavits from two doctors and three clinic managers saying that women undergoing an abortion recover within 30 minutes on average.

But Deborah Shearer, director of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando’s Respect Life office, told the city that some abortions are too complicated to allow a patient to recover and leave within an hour, which would violate the city’s zoning laws.

“This is not minor surgery. They’re not extracting a tooth,” Shearer said.

After learning the city’s permission had been revoked, Shearer said, “All we’re doing is acting responsibly. . . . It’s unfortunate they went ahead and approved this without researching it.”

Neither Pendergraft nor his attorneys could be reached Thursday.

Orlando first blocked Pendergraft, an obstetrician and gynecologist, from opening two months ago by denying him a conditional use permit.

He needed that document because he sought to open what he said was a clinic in an area just south of City Hall reserved for medical offices and residences.

By rewriting his request and paying a $110 fee, Pendergraft appeared to have avoided what promised to be an expensive and lengthy court battle to try and force the city into approving his business.

But city officials revoked his permit to open after deciding Thursday afternoon that they needed more information on recovery times.

“We’re not medical doctors here,” City Attorney Bob Hamilton said. “It’s a tense issue and we want to be sure of what we are doing.”

No one was certain how long the city would take before deciding whether to re-approve or continue blocking Pendergraft’s proposal.

Shearer and several Lucerne Terrace business owners have predicted the facility would attract traffic congestion, pickets and violence, as has happened at abortion clinics in Melbourne and Pensacola.

Such complaints were among the reasons Orlando officials nixed Pendergraft’s initial application. They argued his business would have a “detrimental” effect on Lucerne Terrace properties.

Shearer is trying to halt the planned opening by sifting through Pendergraft’s paperwork at City Hall, looking for inconsistencies or mistakes.

Greater Orlando now has three abortion clinics.

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